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My Boots Caught Fire!

Twenty years before Doc Marten successfully marketed combat boots for everyday wear, I had a pair of my own personally spit-shined combat boots.

As an ROTC cadet in college, instead of wearing the regular Army greens, my uniform was battle dress, combat boots and a black beret. Even with combat boots, we had inspection and I learned to spit-shine them to a mirror (yes, using black shoe polish, water, torn nylons, a lighter, AND spit).

Combat Boots

But I had only one pair. So when we had to go on a field exercise, I had to wear my beautifully spit-shined combat boots as we ran through brush, forest and stream all day on a cold Saturday near South Bend, Indiana.

I never thought I could run around the forest, brush and stream all day, wearing a 20-pound pack and carrying a 7.9-pound M-14 rifle. I managed to do it and by day’s end, I was frozen to the bone and exhausted. All I wanted was to be warm. I inched closer to the fire. "Hey," yelled another cadet, "Your boots are on fire!" All that built-up wax polish made my ordinary leather boots quite flammable. My boot toes glowed with a low blue and orange flame.

This wasn’t my first choice on how to spend my Saturday. But, I was a “hard-charging Ranger.” And now, my boots were smokin' hot.

I became a Ranger so I didn’t have to go to formation marching practice every Thursday afternoon with the ordinary grunts; plus I got to wear a black beret. As my boots ignited, the appeal of marching practice on Thursday afternoons and ditching the black beret crossed my mind.


At 18, sometimes I made my decisions on trivial criteria. I chose a black beret over a green hat. I chose combat wear over a drab green dress uniform. I chose combat boots over black pumps. I did this to avoid marching practice which took up less than an hour a week. Instead, I ended up getting up at o-dark hundred to run almost daily in the fall ... but hey, I got to wear a black beret! I'd like to think that today I make decisions using more substantial and important criteria. But sometimes, that black beret still wins out. And sometimes, my boots catch fire.

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